Vaginal discharge is a fluid secreted by glands located in the vagina and vulva. Discharge protects the vagina from infection, cleanses it, and provides lubrication during sex.
Sometimes, when something is wrong in the intimate area, an unusual discharge will be one of the first symptoms. This is the case in bacterial vaginosis, yeast infection or other urogenital problems.
Besides vaginal discharge, other signs of a yeast infection include itching, burning, redness, irritation, swelling and pain while urinating or during intercourse. Yeast infections are most commonly caused by Candida albicans, a type of yeast that normally lives in various areas of our bodies – in the vagina, in the digestive tract and in the mouth. In normal conditions, yeast lives in balance with other microbes and can be part of our healthy vaginal flora. However, if there is an imbalance in the body, this yeast can begin to grow uncontrollably, causing an infection and related discomforts.
The majority of women experience at least one yeast infection during their life. Also many women suffer from recurring infections, especially before or just after the menstrual period, during pregnancy or while using birth control pills. Other factors that may cause an imbalance in the vaginal flora and contribute to the overgrowth of candida are antibiotics, being overweight, diabetes, wearing tight synthetic underwear, using steroid based medication, etc.
Normal vaginal discharge can vary depending on the individual, but it is usually clear, cloudy white or yellowish. It can go from thin to thick, from stringy to elastic, depending on the menstrual cycle, level of stress, nutritional habits, pregnancy, breastfeeding or certain medication. Amounts of discharge can vary as well, and you may notice an increase around your ovulation or when you are aroused. If you notice a discharge that is white, thick, clumpy, looking almost like cottage cheese, that may be a sign of a yeast infection. Discharge can also increase in amount during a yeast infection, but is often odorless. If you experience these symptoms contact your healthcare provider for advice, especially if you are pregnant.
Two of the most common vaginal discomforts, bacterial vaginosis and thrush, are related to an imbalance in the vaginal flora. These two conditions partly show similar symptoms, and are therefore often misdiagnosed, causing issues with treatment and sometimes further complications. Even though there are cases when bacterial and yeast infections develop simultaneously, in most cases there are some differences that could help you tell these two conditions apart. Discharge that is characteristic for bacterial vaginosis is usually white, grey or yellow, usually very thin, accompanied by a strong fishy odor. On the other hand, if the discharge is lacking a strong odor, and the consistency reminds you of cottage cheese, it is most likely you have a yeast infection.